Audi looks for third win at Sears Point

Audi looks for third straight win at ALMS Grand Prix of Sonoma. SONOMA, Calif. - The most exotic sports cars in the world will take over Sears Point Raceway May 17-19 for the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma, presented by Foster's ...

Audi looks for third straight win at ALMS Grand Prix of Sonoma.

SONOMA, Calif. - The most exotic sports cars in the world will take over Sears Point Raceway May 17-19 for the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma, presented by Foster's Lager.

These are the fastest machines that traverse the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course each year, reaching top speeds of more than 170 mph on certain segments of the track. No car has been faster in recent years than the Audi Infineon R8, who has dominated both the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sears Point Raceway the last two years. Audi is the two-time defending champion of both the ALMS and Sears Point.

Moreover, Audi even set the fastest lap ever recorded at Sears Point Raceway when Allan McNish, now a Formula One driver with Toyota, toured the circuit at 112.440 mph in 2000. Audi has gotten off to another fast start in the ALMS in 2002 with a victory at the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. The trio of Rinaldo Capello, Christian Pescatori and Johnny Herbert combined to register the victory over their Audi teammates, who placed second. But while it seems Audi is destined for another banner season, there is one team that is making a surge.

Panoz Motorsports will feature a two-car, LMP-900 team on the ALMS circuit for 2002 and has invested time and money in taking out the class leader. Panoz has also invested in a new high-profile driver in Bryan Herta.

The ex-CART star has only raced twice before at Sears Point Raceway, once in the Barber Saab Pro Series and once aboard a go-kart. However, he is keen to make amends for his karting performance in 1986.

"I had just taken the lead at the Go-Kart Nationals in the 100cc class when I flipped," Herta said. "I didn't hurt myself, only my pride. But I am really looking forward to the chance to race at Sears Point again. It has been a long time."

Herta will team-up with fellow American, David Donohue, aboard the new Panoz LMP-01 Evo machine. The all-American squad in car #51 forms half of the Panoz outfit, which features ex-Formula One drivers David Brabham (Australia) and Jan Magnussen (Denmark) in car #50.

Having twice tasted victory in CART at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Herta is hopeful of continuing his Californian form on the twisting road course of Sears Point Raceway.

"Northern California has been kind to me in the past and hopefully that will be able to continue," Herta said. "Getting through traffic at Sears Point is going to the key factor for this race. In fact, it will almost be more important than outright speed."

With Panoz upping the ante in the Prototype class, it should be a wild weekend at Sears Point Raceway when the ALMS visits the Sonoma Valley, May 17-19.

In addition to Prototype, Corvette returns to defend the GTS title that it won last year behind drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell. Corvette is the defending champion at Sears Point but will face challenges from Ferrari and Saleen, which snapped Corvette's four-race win streak last season with a victory in Monterey.

Porsche will look for a comeback victory at Sears Point Raceway in the GT class after capturing the driver and manufacturer's championships in 1999-2000 behind drivers Dirk Muller and Cort Wagner.

-spr-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Christian Pescatori , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , David Donohue , Cort Wagner